20 October 2013

Slavery in Timor-Leste

ETLJB 20 October 2013 - The Global Slavery Index provides a ranking of 162 countries, reflecting a combined measure of three factors: estimated prevalence of modern slavery by population, a measure of child marriage, and a measure of human trafficking in and out of a country. The measure is heavily weighted to reflect the first factor, prevalence. A number one ranking indicates a more severely concentrated modern slavery situation; 160 shows the least. The top 5 worst-ranking countries are Mauritania, Haiti, Pakistan, India, and Nepal while the top 5 best-ranking countries are Iceland, Ireland, United Kingdom, New Zealand and Switzerland.


The index assigns East Timor at 120 indicating a relatively low incidence of slavery. By contrast, Australia is rated overall at 138 and Indonesia at 114.

The Index uses the following definition of slavery:

Slavery is the possession and control of a person in such a way as to significantly deprive that person of his or her individual liberty, with the intent of exploiting that person through their use, management, profit, transfer or disposal. Usually this exercise will be achieved through means such as violence or threats of violence, deception and/or coercion.

The Global Slavery Index 2013 report includes a table entitled "Ranking by prevalences of population in modern slavery, plus national population, plus estimate of absolute numbers of population in modern slavery per country". According to this ranking table, the Global Slavery Index asserts that Calculated Number of Enslaved in East Timor is 1,020, the Estimated Enslaved, Lower Range for East Timor is 970 with the Estimated Enslaved, Higher Range at 1,100.

But the report states that the actual number of enslaved is most likely to be much higher that the Calculated Number of Enslaved because "The calculated number of enslaved is a figure obtained by multiplying the estimated proportion of the population enslaved in each country (derived from random sample surveys and secondary source estimates) by the current population. Although this is a calculation, it is not the true number of enslaved in each country, given that the “dark figure” of slavery (that is, the underreported number of enslaved) is considerably higher than the reported number. We therefore urge due caution in inferring that the calculated number represents
the true number of enslaved. It is, most likely, a gross underestimate."

This implies tha the actual number of enslaved persons in East Timor is much higher than 1020. Turning to the three factors used to measure the incidence of slavery by the Index, namely: estimated prevalence of modern slavery by population, a measure of child marriage, and a measure of human trafficking in and out of a country, there seems to be little empirical evidence of modern slavery in East Timor although this author has heard anecdotal stories of such slavery. Child marriage does not appear to be phenomenon manifesting in East Timor. Certainly, there have been several public reports since independence of trafficking of women from other countries to East Timor to work in the sex industry as well as local prostitution so perhaps it is the human trafficking in and out of the country that is the primary factor taken into consideration by the authors of the index to calculate the numbers of slaves in East Timor.

If any reader has any other sources of information on slavery in East Timor, please let us know by using the ETLJB Contact Us form. Source: The Global Slavery Index 2013. This article written by Warren L. Wright BA LLB on 20 October 2013
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